Making Schools Work with Hederick Smith school by school reform

Success For All Comer School
Development Program
KIPP High Schools That Work

school by school reform
Jordan Community School principal, Dr. Maurice Harvey

Jordan Community School principal, Dr. Maurice Harvey, gathers with a group of students outside the school.

The Comer Process, commonly referred to as the School Development Program, takes a uniquely supportive view of education with a focus on developing “the whole child.” Unlike models with a formulaic approach to curriculum or teaching methods, this holistic strategy links children’s academic growth with their emotional wellness and social and moral development in a collaborative school culture congenial to learning. The program is derived from the idea that when students feel supported and nurtured in school, their outlook, life skills and academic performance will improve. Since 1968 when the model was created by Dr. James Comer, a Yale University child psychiatrist, it has been utilized in more than 1150 schools nationwide. Approximately 300 schools are currently at different phases of implementing the model.

Dr. Comer believes that for various reasons, many inner city children enter school “underdeveloped,” lacking the personal, social and moral traits necessary for academic and life success. He also believes that many teachers lack adequate knowledge of child development or an understanding of their students’ home lives and culture, leaving them unprepared to deal appropriately with these children and their families to effectively foster their learning.

The Comer Process puts the responsibility on schools – their principals, administrators, teachers and parents – to come together to agree on an action plan for the school, with both social and academic components. Teachers, principals and parents make decisions collaboratively, in the best interests of the students. The Comer Process guides schools to set up a network of teams to manage the school and to deal with various facets of the social and academic needs of the school.

Under the Comer strategy, a successful school should look and feel like a community center, where parent volunteers are engaged in helping teachers and administrators to make key decisions about running the school and providing support for the school community. With a strong recommendation for a full-time social worker on campus, the Comer Process emphasizes the need for schools to link social services. Schools also invest in staff development and undergo regular assessments to gauge progress. According to research on the Comer Process in high poverty and high minority urban settings, this strategy has been very effective at improving student achievement when implemented conscientiously and consistently over a period of five years or more.

What you’ll see in a Comer school:

  • Management teams: The school runs by collaborative decision-making and consensus. Groups of parents, teachers and administrators meet in structured teams to handle routine administrative matters and problems in the school. They make major decisions together.
  • Emphasis on holistic child development: In every facet of school life and organization, the Comer Process links academic success with healthy child development. Various teams and groups meet frequently to discuss and work on specific problems with student behavior and how to remove obstacles to learning by creating a caring and nurturing school environment with close links to parents.
  • Parent volunteers: The Comer Process believes in involving parents as much as possible in the running of the school. Parent volunteers are welcomed and serve a variety of important functions within the school.
  • Social worker: Comer schools stress the importance of child development. In looking after the emotional well-being of all students, many of whom come from traumatic backgrounds, Comer schools have at least one social worker in place to assist the children and help manage the implementation of the Comer Process in the school environment.

Contact Information

School Development Program, Yale Child Study Center
55 College Street, New Haven CT, 06510
203-737-1020; fax/203-737-1023

Some Research Articles and Evaluations

“Comer's School Development Program in Chicago: A Theory-Based Evaluation,” (2000), by Thomas D. Cook, Robert F. Murphy, and H. David Hunt, American Educational Research Journal, 37(2), 535-97
This publication is the second in a series of reports done by the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University evaluating Comer’s School Development Program in different cities and suburbs. The report evaluates fifth through eighth graders in 10 inner city Chicago schools that use the Comer Process, analyzing how well the program is implemented, how it affects school climate, how it influences change in student outcomes and why it has the effect it does. (PDF - Adobe Reader Required)

“The Kids Got Smarter: Case Studies of Successful Comer Schools”, (2001), by George W. Noblit, William Malloy, and Carol E. Malloy, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc.
In this book the authors investigate school reform in five urban Comer schools: three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. The implication of the successes reported in this volume show that children from all income, geographic, language, ethnic and cultural groups can gain the social and academic skills needed to do well in school when the education enterprise adequately addresses their needs.

“‘I Don’t Want Your Nasty Pot of Gold’: Urban School Climate and Public Policy”, (1997), by Charles Payne, Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research
This paper explores how dysfunctional relationships between teachers, administrators, and parents can undermine the implementation of reform programs, even when all parties generally agree about the strategy and goals. The data examines the day-to-day realities of 16 schools in Chicago that are using the Comer model. - report #ED412313

The Comer School Development Program web site also lists quite a few research articles and evaluations. Be aware that these selections may only cite favorable findings, however.

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